Saturday Mothers: “Not us but the perpetrators should be put on trial”

The trial of several members of the Saturday Mothers' initiative began in Istanbul with the reading of the indictment. IHD chairman Öztürk Türkdoğan called the proceedings pointless and demanded acquittal.

In Istanbul the trial of the Saturday Mothers initiative, which demands clarification about disappeared people, began on Thursday. Accused are 46 members and supporters, who are stand trial for allegedly violating the Turkish Assembly and Demonstration Law No. 2911. If convicted, they face up to three years in prison.

The subject of the indictment is the vigil held on August 25, 2018, the day the Saturday Mothers gathered for the 700th time at their ancestral site in front of the Galatasaray High School on Istanbul's Istiklal Avenue pedestrian zone to remember their missing relatives. Since 1995, the Initiative, which is made up of a majority of women, has taken to the streets week after week to demand justice for the victims of state "disappearances" during the 1980s and 1990s. Between 1999 and 2009, the Saturday Mothers had to suspend their weekly sit-ins because the police regularly broke up the gatherings.

The 700th vigil of the Saturday Mothers was also similar: On the orders of Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, who had banned the gathering in advance because of alleged links to a "terrorist organization," police deployed water cannons and attacked the crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets. The violent action of the police as well as the demonstration ban had been justified with the allegation that the Saturday Mothers would be instrumentalized by terrorist organizations. In addition, the meeting had also been advertised in social networks by groups that are alleged to be close to the PKK.

Lawyers requested acquittal for all defendants

The trial at the 21st Criminal Chamber of Istanbul Courthouse was observed by numerous civil law organizations, Human Rights Association (IHD), Istanbul Bar Association and members of parliament, including Züleyha Gülüm, Ali Kenanoğlu and Oya Ersoy from the HDP, Turan Aydoğan and Ali Şeker from the CHP, and independent parliamentarian and journalist Ahmet Şık.

After the indictment was read out, IHD chairman and lawyer Öztürk Türkdoğan took the floor first. He described the indictment as groundless, as the defendants had merely exercised their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. He said that the order on the ban issued by the Ministry of Interior had been handed over to the Saturday Mothers only after the police assault. Moreover, the document did not provide any concrete reasons for the ban, which Türkdoğan called an "arbitrary and politically motivated restriction of fundamental rights”. The lawyer demanded acquittal for all defendants.

Rober Koptaş: Holy struggle should be rewarded, not punished

The trial then continued with testimony from eight of the 46 defendants. Armenian journalist Rober Koptaş described the resistance of the Saturday Mothers as "holy" and apologized for not being able to participate in every action of the initiative. "These people are fighting against the tradition of disappearances. They should be rewarded, not punished." Koptaş also commented on the arrests at the 700th vigil: "We were dragged across the floor and handcuffed with plastic handcuffs. We were insulted and mistreated on the police bus. Some of our companions were beaten. It is not us who should be in the dock, but those who did this. Protest is a fundamental right. It is not those who exercise their right who are punishable, but those who criminalize fundamental rights."

Ali Ocak and Faruk Eren, relatives of disappeared people, told the stories of their brothers Hasan Ocak and Hayrettin Eren and described how they have spent the last quarter century demanding justice. "Do not put us on trial, but the perpetrators," both men said. They also called for a criminal trial of the police officers involved in the assault on the Saturday Mothers' vigil. The trial will continue on July 12 with the questioning of the remaining defendants.